Memphis - Kenneth Berryhill passed away peacefully on July 13, 2020 at
the age of 90. Born in Jackson, Tennessee and raised in Memphis, Kenneth
attended Idlewild and Snowden schools, Central High School, and Evergreen Presbyterian Church.
While still in high school, Ken was hired as one of the original on-air
personalities at WDIA, even signing the station on the air its first day
of broadcast in 1947. He worked there during the summers throughout college, becoming friends
with a young B. B. King and working alongside such luminaries
as Nat D. Williams and Rufus Thomas.
While at Lambuth College in Jackson, his show "Ken Calling" on WTJS was the most
popular in the market. It featured comic voices, sound effects, and other zany antics
twenty years before "gonzo" deejays like Rick Dees. Local kids came to
the radio station to watch him do his show, including a 14-year-old Wink Martindale, who has
long acknowledged that Ken Berryhill inspired him to go into show biz.
After transferring to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Ken worked at WSM radio and
TV, where he became friends with many of the Grand Ole Opry stars. He also
ran a pirate radio station out of his Vanderbilt dorm room that led
to the founding of WRVU, which is still in operation today.
After two years in the Army, Ken was hired as a producer/director at WMC Channel 5,
the new NBC affiliate in Memphis. He not only produced the original Loony Zoo
kids show, he also served as the puppeteer!
Ken went on to manage radio stations in Mississippi for the Mutual Broadcasting System,
then served as Director of Public Relations at Rhodes College. In later years he supported
his family as an agent for Pan-American Life Insurance Company, but he continued to
write, produce, and perform radio shows into his 80s. In 2019 he was inducted
into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame.
He met Mary Lea Morris while at Lambuth, and in 1954 they were wed in her hometown
of Ripley, Tennessee. They were happily married for more than 58 years until
her death in 2013 at the age of 79.
Ken is also preceded in death by his parents, Clyde and Lucille Coleman Berryhill,
and his sister Zephna. He leaves behind two sons, Wayne and Dale, both of Memphis,
and various cousins. His ashes will be interred in the family plot in Mt. Olivet
Cemetery, McKenzie, Tennessee next spring, date and time TBD. For more photos
and information, visit the Facebook tribute page "Kenneth Berryhill, Broadcast Pioneer."
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